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SPI 610: Building Community (Behind the Scenes)

What is the number one strategy you should focus on in the coming years?

At SPI, we believe that community is a massive part of the future of entrepreneurship. We try to lead by example, so I’m pulling back the curtain today and revealing the exciting things we’ve been working on behind the scenes.

I’m joined by three brilliant members of our team in this episode. Jillian Benbow is the Community Experience Director at SPI. She also hosts the SPI Media-produced podcast, The Community Experience. You’ve heard from her in session 495, but today she’s joined by our newest community managers.

David Masnato manages SPI Pro, while Ashley LaGrow is at the helm of a brand new membership program we can’t wait to unveil. Listen in on our chat to discover the fantastic Learner community! We talk about what it is and who it’s for, and we give you a sneak peek at what we have in store for our members.

You’ll also get a glimpse at our entire community strategy, with takeaways to help you future-proof your business. Join us to discover how SPI Pro, the Learner Community, and the SPI Academy all fit together. If you want an even more in-depth look at how we run our communities and the tools we use, check out episode 054 of The Community Experience.

Whatever level you’re at in your journey, we have you covered at

SPI 610: Building Community (Behind the Scenes)

Announcer: Welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, where it’s all about working hard now, so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host, he’s the Pat of all trades master of fun. Pat Flynn.

Pat Flynn: Hey everybody. It is one of our follow up Friday episodes, but this is a special one because we don’t just have a guest on.

Usually it’s just me, but we have actually three guests on today. One of them that you’ve probably heard of before, if you’ve listened to the show, two that we’re going to introduce to you for the first time today. So welcome Jillian, Ashley and David. We’re having a little party here. What’s up?

David Masnato: Hello.

Ashley LaGrow: Hello. Thanks for having us.

Jillian Benbow: Yeah, hey.

Pat Flynn: Jillian. You’re back on the show in kind of an interesting way, because we wanted to use this opportunity to talk about some of what we’re doing in the world of community. And Jillian, why don’t you, first of all, I’ll have you introduce Ashley and David and, and who they are, and then they can go maybe talk a little bit about what they were doing before and how they got on to Team SPI.

So Jillian, since this is your team, why don’t you take the mic.

Jillian Benbow: Well, thanks so much, Pat. So if you know me, you know me, hello, if not, I am the Director of Community Experience here at SPI, and I have the privilege of working with amazing people. And since the last time I was on the show, a lot has happened. Our team is totally different.

We’ve made choices, had some amazing growth, and I’m super excited to introduce you to our two Community Experience Managers. If you recall, we have this little thing called SPI Pro. You may have heard us talk about it. And so David Masnato is our Community Experience Manager for all things Pro. So let’s start with you, David, who are you?

David Masnato: Thank you. I am David, David Masnato. Ah, Jill had already like stole the, the big news with the title and I’m sorry. No, it’s fine. But yeah, I I’ve been around Pro I think I started in April, either April or May. Big chunk of what I’ve been doing is kind of overhauling and tweaking our mastermind pairing. But I’m around just to do a little bit of moderation.

Keep people happy, welcome people into, into the space. Help people navigate it. It is there’s a lot going on and sometimes people need a little bit of direction and guidance as when they join. So that’s a, that’s a big chunk of what I do. I am coming from a job in digital asset management. And one of my side gigs is I do community management for an online board game prototyping organization.

So that was how I was introduced to SPI through one of the co organizers as a member of Pro. And she kind of steered me in the direction of the community and felt like a really good fit at the right time. And here I am, I’m so excited to be here. And, you know, Jillian already mentioned that it’s just like an incredible group of people, super talented, super knowledgeable, super welcoming.

It’s so good to be here and hello to everyone who’s listening who have had the pleasure to meet so far. I’m sure some of you are listening and tuning in. So hello again, and thank you for all being great and being a part of this.

Jillian Benbow: And then you stole my thunder. Cause I was gonna talk about how a Pro member is responsible for introducing you to us.

But I can steal Ashley’s thunder because it was the same story for Ashley. In fact, it’s amazing. Oh, well you’re about to hear the whole story. So we decided we wanted a dedicated community manager for the Academy which is our completely separate other community.

And we wanted to hire a little uniquely. So instead of looking for someone coming from my background of community experience and just community management, we were thinking, you know, what we wanna do with this space is different a little different than that. A little bigger than this. So we really wanted somebody who had instructional design experience, which will get a little bit into why in, in a bit.

And so one of our members happens to be someone that knows people who do things like that. I was talking to Matt, the, the CEO of SPI about, we really need to find a teacher who doesn’t wanna be a teacher anymore. And then fast forward and I was introduced to Ashley. So Ashley LaGrow is our community experience manager for the Academy.

Ashley, why don’t you fill in first person the actual story.

Ashley LaGrow: Yes, absolutely. So Jillian said my name is Ashley LaGrow and I am a former teacher. So I taught third and fourth grade for seven years. So very different in ways than what I do now. So I, as Jillian said, I no longer wanted to be a teacher and the traditional sense.

And I’m one of those people, like a lot of you listening, probably that have a lot of passions and a lot of different skill sets and I wanted something new and one of the SPI Pro members oversaw a community or still oversees a community for teachers wanting to transition out of teaching. And I got to chat with her there about everything SPI had to offer and about the role and chatted with Jillian and some other members of Team SPI about their vision for what the Academy had in store and all the exciting things coming up. And I jumped right on it. And I’ve been here for almost two months now overseeing the SPI Academy. And I really love it.

I get to do some work with our online courses too. So I have a master’s in curriculum and instruction. So that really transfers from the third grade classroom over to our learning management system and is thinking about how people learn best practices, staying up to date with some really cool technology things and keeping it innovative here. So really happy to be here.

Pat Flynn: Thank Ashley. So good. I mean, as you can tell, we always hire people who care about you, the audience, and serving you in the best way possible. It’s also obvious that we’re putting a lot of time and resources into community. This is the thing that we’ve been putting most of our resources and time into from hiring these two wonderful people to of course, putting Jillian into the director role and really managing what SPI Pro has become.

But more than that, we have grown beyond SPI I Pro when it comes to community. And, you know, a lot of people have asked me personally, like, Hey pat, why? Why? Isn’t just everybody who’s interested in community, just all in Pro. Jillian, can you speak to why we have Pro and why we have the Academy. And then now recently the SPI Learner Community.

And I think for people who hear that for the first time that there’s like almost three ish kind of different spots, it sounds a little confusing, but I want you to talk about what the overall plan is and the sort of delineation between those, because I think it’s gonna help people who are listening to understand why we’re doing this, but also if they’re interested in community, what might be the right place for them inside of SPI?

Jillian Benbow: Yeah, absolutely. And to anybody who has a community and has thought about maybe adding tier or even entirely new communities, I think this will be really valuable. So of course we are happy to.

So recall back, there was a year called 2020. I’m sure we all remember it. It’s good or bad. And that’s when, as Pat knows is probably everyone here knows us when SPI Pro launched. And, you know, we figured out how we wanted to do it. We have an application we care very deeply about maintaining this really safe place for people to talk about all things about their business so that they can grow it to the next level and to do that, it has to be safe, but you kind of also wanna be with people who are either in a similar boat or even like a little ahead of you. And so, because of that, the criteria to get in a lot of times, honestly, people apply and we just don’t think they’re quite ready.

So we gently redirect them to other resources and, and give them some criteria of like, Hey, we don’t think this is the right place for you right now. Mostly cuz you’d be wasting your money because you’d get in and feel a little lost. And we do that a lot. We were looking at the metrics of the, who we accept and who we don’t.

And a lot of the people that, that we don’t feel are a fit right now are excellent people. They have great business ideas, they have great projects, but they just aren’t ready for Pro. And to Pat’s point. We had the option of, well we’re nice people and we wanna be inclusive. We could let everybody in, but then that would dilute what makes Pro special.

So we thought, what if instead we launched a new, it, it originally we thought about it as a new tier to Pro more of like a, just not quite there yet, not quite at the level of Pro tier, it could be at a lower price point, but then logistically looking at it, we already had the Academy because our course communities have spaces in there.

So that already existed. And we thought, you know, the people who are taking our courses are often very similar to the people who we’re thinking about for this new tier. Maybe it makes sense to have those groups together and then keep Pro completely separate as kind of this it’s like a pretty significant next step.

It’s kind of like going from high school to university, right? It’s a, it’s a change of schools. And so we really liked that idea. And so we ran with it and we’ve been working behind the scenes for a long time and ex so excited that when you hear this, it will be live. We worked very hard in creating this Learner Community and we called it that by design because we think of it as like, You’re still kind of figuring out your business in some way, you’re still learning what that business is going to look like.

What will bring you regular revenue? What are your offerings? Like? You’re fine tuning everything if you will. So in many ways you’re still learning and you wanna learn with other people. It’s still an excellent place to network. Just like in Pro it’s. Just the conversations are gonna be geared more to where you are right now.

So that was kind of the thinking that’s we brought Ashley on to run Learner as well as help us with some design things and some other top secret projects we’re working on. It made a lot of sense because we want to have a community for people in that stage that get that similar experience to Pro, but that isn’t Pro and then when you’re ready for Pro it’s there for you.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. I mean, I, I like to think of the Learner Community. From start to stable, right? And then SPI Pro is to grow and scale from there. And it’s a completely different set of needs. It’s completely different set of challenges, completely different set of problems. I’ve been a part of communities, myself that encompasses entrepreneurs of at, at all stages.

And they’re just not as valuable because you know, people who are at the higher level, aren’t getting value from those at the lower level and the ones at the higher level, often overwhelm and confuse those who are at the lower level. And so this is exactly why we wanted to separate these communities out.

And the SPI Pro level almost becomes the next stage. It’s interesting cuz we started there. It would’ve maybe made sense to start at the Learner Community, but we didn’t because we saw that there were opportunities, there was revenue there and we’ve now given it a couple years to, to prove itself and it’s been doing amazing and that’s where David comes in to help moderate that and, and such, and then now with the Learner Community and, and Ashley at the helm there, and it’s just.

It’s gonna be so fantastic and we’ve tested this, we’ve run a founder’s launch and I’m just excited to see, see what goes on in there. Ashley, do you have any recommendations for anybody who’s getting into the Learner Community or who’s interested who wants to maximize their value in there? You know, a beginner can often feel very overwhelmed being surrounded by other people who are yes maybe at the same level, but just, it can be very intimidating to be a, a part of a community like that. How might one, whether it’s our community or another community, how might one best set themselves up for success? Getting into a space like that?

Ashley LaGrow: Yeah, absolutely. So one thing I really love about the Learner Community is everybody has something in common.

They are either about to start a business. Like you can come into the Learner Community without a set business model yet, and learn from one another or you’re in beginning stages wanting to learn. And so I would say my biggest recommendation is just to get involved. And so every week I create these curated posts they’re regular, every single week, we start on Mondays with goal setting. And so we set goals for our week. And so everybody comes together, sets their goal and people comment on one another’s goals. Help keep each other accountable, give recommendations, give them people to relate to. And we have posts like that all throughout the week to set goals, reflect on the week, share our favorite resources.

And so doing that, it really does create that sense of community, even if you are at different levels. And it’s really cool. Like you said, we’ve been testing this out with our founding members and some trial members. Being able to see these same people where they were two months ago is not where they are now.

And I really attribute it a lot to their willingness to grow and get involved and just be open with one another because entrepreneurship is sticky and I have a side business myself. And so I’m able to put myself in the shoes of our members and also just ask them what they need. We also host at least three live events each month.

And so getting involved, showing up at those, whether you interact or not although I recommend you do ask questions and be open is a really great way to make the most out of your time. And figure out what works for you and your business.

Pat Flynn: That’s such a beautiful answer. Ashley, thank you so much. And for David, your perspective, you know, you’ve been involved in the SPI Pro community.

You’ve had several interactions. I mean, every day you’re having interactions with people there. What’s your recommendation for somebody coming into a community to not be overwhelmed by just the plethora of information and spaces and places that you could go. Yes, you wanna get involved I agree with that for sure, Ashley. It could also feel very like, where do I even begin? How do I start David? What’s your recommendation on maximizing one’s value within the communities they’re in.

David Masnato: One of the things I do as a part of my role is I, I send a welcome message to everybody who comes in. And one of the things I see the most often as a response to that is thank you for the welcome message, what do I do now? And I think the thing I always come back to with that, and this is one of the things that I was so impressed with Pro when I first started is the experience truly is what you put into it, and you can shape it and form it into your life and around your work and your personal things and goals in life that you have happening, you can bend it into the shape it needs to.

So, if you don’t think you have the time to be able to commit to a mastermind or something like that, you don’t need to do it. There are other options in Pro that you can take advantage of where you can get the same advice and build the same connections with other members, the same guidance and offer the same things without having a huge time commitment or filling out your Circle space with a bunch of threads and things that are difficult to keep on top of.

So one of the things I’ll steer people towards is we’ve got these sort of focus group categories that are in these two very broad buckets of monetization and audience building. And under each of those umbrella categories, there’s more dialed in spaces and these are totally optional to opt into. You can join as many of them as you want.

You could skip all of them entirely and pretend they’re not there. Actually we had a open house event today that I ran where someone was asking some questions about like, I think I want to get my work on like my YouTube channel and, and get my build up my audience, tighten things up a little bit, improve my presentation.

Where can I go within Pro to connect with people about these specific things? And one of the answers is you could join a mastermind with other folks who were trying to work on their YouTube channels. But the other thing you could do is just join the video section of one of the focus groups. I believe that one’s under audience building.

And if you’ve got a question about something, like, let’s say, it’s on the topic of how do I make engaging thumbnails and titles? You could throw a question out there and I guarantee within an hour, you will have people responding to that. People who know the content, they know the answer they’ve been doing this for a while.

You will get responses so fast. And because we, you know, we keep coming back to this, like moderated community thing. This is a moderated space with people who intend to be here and want to be here and want to offer and receive this feedback and input. That that’s kind of my, my guidance for people coming in is like, Know what you want to get out of it and find the spaces, allow me to help you find the spaces that will, will get you that with as little lift as possible and just like, say hello to people, get to know folks in the space.

Ask people, what they’re working on, make connections, and then find the pockets that you want to participate in.

Pat Flynn: So good. I mean, this is exactly why we design it. The way like you described is to reduce the overwhelm and to, to make it easy. And it’s the same way in the Learner Community as well. Now, the Pro makes sense. I mean, this was a premium community that people could join and, and you could still apply, although we are very close to approaching our caps. So you wanna make sure to apply to SPI Pro when you can And if you’re not quite sure if you’re ready for that, well, we’ll let you know.

And then we can redirect you to Learner if you’re not quite ready yet, which is again, the beauty of now having the sort of beginner level for people to, to marinated and before they’re ready for Pro for later. But you know, I’ve had a lot of people ask me, Jillian, Oh, okay. So now you’re gonna do a beginner one.

Why is it still like a paid thing? Why not a free Facebook group or, you know, something like that. That’s, you know, in a place where people are already and people are familiar with that, like this seems like a little bit of friction to help these people at the beginning of their journey. Why on Circle?

Why, you know, it’s a smaller price point, but why still a price point for those beginners at the Lerner community level?

Jillian Benbow: Oh, I love this question. I think every time I come on this show and certainly on the CX podcast, Talk about it a lot is my disdain for Facebook groups and that I would argue that’s not community, so let’s get into it.

Where do we start? And I will say, I do think there is a case for Facebook groups and Facebook communities for certain businesses and as lead magnets, someone in Pro is doing this well, but they have a free Facebook group that funnels into their subscription model. They were considering a paid community and ultimately realized they could leverage the existing group that they’d already built in a way that didn’t involve a migration.

So I will eat some crow. There are ways it can work. I personally would still not do it for a lot of reasons. But for today, let’s talk about why is Learner set up the way it is number one safety. So. To join Learner you have to put down a credit card number. You have to pay, you have to invest cash money into it to be a part of it.

You don’t have to apply like SPI Pro. You can just join on demand and that’s intentional. We have community guidelines that you have to follow, but because you’re joining as your real self, because you’re putting your financial information in a way like you’re using a credit card that is a safeguard against trolls against spam, against bots, all of the things that you experience in say, I don’t know, Facebook group, so it’s very by design. It’s also the motivation. Like there’s a little bit of a barrier to entry and if that’s too much for you, you probably don’t wanna be a member anyways, because this isn’t just a group where it’s just UGC or user generated content.

We have a full-time team that is in these communities, creating programming, creating rituals, et cetera. You don’t just join and then magically get this like brain download of how to have a six figure business. It takes work and you have to be willing to show up in the community and participate for it to be of value.

So if you’re not willing to spend the $89 that it costs to join, and maybe I’m giving a sneak peek too early here, but for three months, membership for a quarter membership, it’s $89. It’s about 30 bucks a month. If that’s not something you’re willing to do, we’re not right for you. I mean, quite frankly. We want you to come in, we want in Learner in particular, there’s a lot about accountability, right? Like Pro is kind of a pretty advanced networking and also like choose your own adventure. Like David was saying with all the different topics you can get into in the nuance and people are kind of in that next level of increasing the revenue and audience.

In learners, a lot of it’s accountability. You need to spend time on creating the thing for it to ever make it. So that’s kind of the short version. It’s just something to consider. I know you can, there’s workarounds to get people to pay for a Facebook community and all that. Like you technically can do it. Less and less people are on Facebook or wanna use it. I mean, of course we know I’m very biased. I’ve I’ve said this in case it wasn’t clear. I’m very biased. But if I am joining a digital course, which I do all the time, by the way, if the community is on Facebook or the interaction or the troubleshooting is on Facebook, I have a policy, I’m not doing it. If you can’t invest, especially for something that’s paid, if you cannot invest in a paid platform where you actually have like a terms of service, that’s written about community and not just about social media, where your people’s data is protected in a way that you feel comfortable, then you shouldn’t have a community mic drop, like, sorry, sorry, not sorry.

Pat Flynn: No, I, I agree with that. I mean, we have that small price, which again, $89 for three months, that’s less than a dollar a day. Right? This is something. Allows a user to feel like they have some skin in the game to hold themselves accountable, to take it seriously as serious as they can in the beginning journey.

And you know, it’s not thousands of dollars. Like there are programs and communities out there that are targeted to beginners that cost thousands. And it’ll take that much longer to get that ROI. We want the ROI to come almost, you know, immediately for you when you get in there. So the Learner Community, and of course, if you’re more advanced in inside of SPI Pro as well, but to finish up here and again, I think we could talk for hours about this, because we’re all that passionate about not just the topic of community in general, but the success of our students, the success of our members, that is the lifeblood of SPI. And so we are focusing and dedicating and investing ourselves into this space for you. Jillian, where should people go from here after listening to this 25 minute episode and their. Curious, where would you point them to?

Jillian Benbow:… No, I’m just kidding. So I was like, wait, hold on a second. Thank you. If you’ve made it this far, especially listening to me make fun of Facebook. If you wanna learn more, we by the time this airs, this is so exciting. It’s fine. Like we’ve been working on this for months, so to see it, to see it happen is just joy.

Go to And that’s gonna actually take you to a page that lets you figure out where you belong with us because you do belong with us. It’s just a matter of which place. So that page will help you see the differences between our communities. Also just a great place to go check out.

We worked really hard on it. So see if you’re doing something similar. See if how we did it looks good. Tell us what you think. But, yeah, go there. You can join Learner straight from that page. You can apply to Pro straight from that page and you might even see a couple other offerings we have that aren’t technically public yet, but might be on that page.

Pat Flynn: So good And if you are also building communities inside of your business, hopefully this is inspiring to you. And of course, we’re gonna talk shop a lot more about community, cuz we feel that that’s the future of how business should be run. It’s not just the content that you’re creating, but the connection that you have with your audience to help them with that content and, and to help them achieve their goals.

And again, we’re trying to lead by example and we’re doing a really good job at it. So hopefully that’s inspiring too. So again, We’d love to see you join us and we’re here to help you. And whether that means coming into the Learner Community, and then we can help you level up to Pro or maybe you’re ready for Pro straight off the bat, or maybe not ready for either of them either way, So Ashley, David, Jillian, thank you so much for joining me here on the show and hopefully we can all connect again soon.

David Masnato: Yeah. Thank you so much, Pat.

Ashley LaGrow: Thank you. This was fun.

Jillian Benbow: Thank you.

Pat Flynn: Thanks for listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast at I’m your host Pat Flynn. Our senior producer is Sara Jane Hess. Our series producer is David Grabowski. And our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media. We’ll catch you in the next session.

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